A public relations consultant for Lummi Nation has provided us with a copy of a letter from the chairmen of four other Northwest tribes to U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, concerning the drawn-out negotiations over a new lease for the county’s ferry to Lummi Island.
“As a federally recognized Indian tribe, the Lummi Nation has jurisdiction and the right to govern its own lands,” the letter says. “In giving Whatcom County a deadline for resolving safety issues on reservation roads and waters that result from the operation of the county’s Lummi Island ferry, the Lummi Nation was acting within its sovereign right.”
The letter notes that islanders and their backers have mounted a letter writing campaign to the congressional delegation asking them to intervene in the matter, and asks the senators and congressman to be wary.
“In our view, any federal intervention that seeks to force the Lummi Nation to use its land or resources in a manner without their consent would be a breach of the federal trust responsibilities and existing federal law,” the letter says.
A few years ago, Whatcom County officials had expected to extend their lease of the ferry dock on the Lummi reservation by exercising a 25-year renewal option, enforceable by binding arbitration to determine renewal terms.
But although tribal officials signed a 1988 document that contained the renewal option, tribal officials contend that the lease is not binding because it was never approved by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, and county officials are not challenging that contention.
The signers of the letter include Nooksack Indian Tribe Chairman Bob Kelly, a former Whatcom County Council member; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chairman Brian Cladoosby; Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon; and Stillaguamish Tribe Chairman Shawn Yanity.
The county and the approximately 900 island residents face an April 10 deadline for resolution of the matter. More negotiations are scheduled for April 6.